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Op-Ed

Fact-checking

October 17, 2022

If your job is to check facts, shouldn't that mean you're seeking truth? Apparently, not.

Milt Policzer

By Milt Policzer

Courthouse News columnist; racehorse owner and breeder; one of those guys who always got picked last.

Who fact-checks the fact-checkers?

Fact-checker fact-checkers? But then who would fact-check the fact-check fact-checkers?

I’m now imagining an infinite string of fact-checking that destroys the universe.

I bring this up because fact-checking may not have anything to do with facts. It seems that lawyers for Meta (aka Facebook) and a nonprofit organization called Science Feedback have argued that fact-check assertions “cannot reasonably be understood to declare or imply provable assertions of fact.”

So they’re fiction checks?

The quote is from a federal judge’s ruling last week in which we’re told that “missing context” and “partly false” labels attached by Facebook to posts by John Stossel — a guy who isn’t worried about climate change — were opinions and not statements of objective fact. So Stossel can’t sue over them.

The bottom line: don’t believe what you see on the internet and also don’t believe any corrections on the internet.

You may feel free to disbelieve any of the above.

Sauce provenance. Here’s a fact you probably didn’t expect to find here: Texas Pete Hot Sauce is No. 6 on the list of 10 most popular hot sauces in America, according to Instacart.

So people like it, right?

But is it selling well because it tastes good or because it’s from Texas? Do people try it once and throw it out in disgust or do they keep buying it?

Why am I asking you these questions?

Well, you may or may not have noticed that a news story started popping up in media outlets around the country about a week ago about a lawsuit claiming the maker of Texas Pete Hot Sauce was being deceptive because the sauce was not made in Texas.

I have no explanation for this because the lawsuit was filed in federal court in Los Angeles more than a month ago. It sat there unnoticed for a month until suddenly a slew of reporters — or people rewriting someone else’s story — decided it was newsworthy.

Sometimes it takes a while to unearth important news.

According to the complaint, the North Carolina company that makes Texas Pete “has cheated its way to a market-leading position in the $3 billion-dollar hot-sauce industry at the expense of law-abiding competitors and consumers nationwide who desire authentic Texas hot sauce.”

They do?

Are they spitting up the faux Texas sauce after reading these news stories?

The scheme, the suit said, was concocted because “Texas enjoys a certain mysticism and appeal in the consumer marketplace. ... Defendant knowingly and intentionally capitalizes on consumers’ desire to partake in the culture and authentic cuisine of one of the most prideful states in America.”

Annoying skeptic that I am, I have to note that the suit says the named plaintiff bought one bottle of the sauce at a Ralph’s more than a year ago for about $3. He wouldn’t have bought it — or he would have paid “significantly less” for it — had he known the sauce wasn’t made in Texas.

So he rushed to his lawyer’s office and demanded justice in court for his wasted $3!

Sure, that’s what happened.

Class action plaintiffs are a fascinating breed.

Aside to journalism critics: I know this story doesn’t merit an investigation, but shouldn’t somebody note we’re not being told anything about this plaintiff’s connection with his lawyers or how he decided (all by himself?) to go to court?

I don’t have answers to these questions, but I do have a news story to report: the same plaintiff, Phillip White, and the same lawyers who sued over Texas Pete filed another lawsuit 17 days later against the company that makes De La Calle! Brand tepache for misleading us into thinking it was made in Mexico when it’s actually produced in Santa Clarita, California.

The defendant allegedly hatched the marketing scheme “because Mexico is the birthplace of tepache, and it knows there is no better way to market a product uniquely associated with a region than to claim the product is made there.”

This White guy is really fussy about his food nationalities. As with the hot sauce, he spent “approximately $3.00” for the tepache last fall. That must have been a difficult and frustrating season for him and he may have lost $6 that could have been spent on real Texas and Mexican food.

Shattered illusions are a terrible thing.

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